You’ve learned that working hard is the way to reach your goals and get things done – and sometimes that means skipping or even cancelling a vacation, right?
But studies show even top-tier executives need to step away from time to time. The benefits extend not just to an individual’s mental and physical health, but to the workplace as a whole, which can see improved rates of productivity and employee morale.
A Dangerous Work Ethic
Americans are among the hardest-working in the world, frequently ranked at the top regarding hours worked and least regarding vacation time taken. Only about half of Americans use all the paid vacation time available to them.
The reasons why vary, but many of us feel (or want to feel) indispensable. We think the work won’t move forward without us there (or we’re nervous it will). We’re afraid to ask for time off, thinking it might hurt our chances of promotion or a pay raise. We’re scared things will spin out of control, and there will be more work to do when we return.
Institutionally, we haven’t made it easy on ourselves. The United States is the only industrialized nation without a mandatory minimum vacation day policy. The message is clear: Vacations are at the bottom of our collective priority list.
The truth is, burnout and fatigue not only cost individuals their mental and physical health, but it has a financial impact on companies as well. There are tangible benefits of taking vacations and for leaders to encourage employees to do so.
The Cost of Burnout
What does burnout and fatigue cost us? Employers lose money because of lost productivity and poor decision-making. And the strain comes from some directions:
Exhaustion. Many of us don’t get enough sleep, and tired employees cost employers $410 billion in 2015, according to the National Safety Council, which created a Fatigue Cost Calculator to demonstrate to employers the impact of an overtired workforce.
When you’re tired, it becomes more difficult to deal with the stress. If you’ve ever had a sleepless night, arrived at work the next day to back-to-back, high-pressure meetings, and then felt like you might start crying or yelling, you know what we mean.
All of this leads to a more difficult-to-measure problem: Career burnout. Burnout can develop out of a combination of overwork and under-appreciation, exhaustion, and a lack of passion or purpose. Workers who lose appetite for what they do can feel anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms of stress.
The Good News
Taking vacation time can help turn all that around. Research shows multiple and significant health benefits of taking vacation time. Men at high risk of coronary heart disease cut their chances of death by heart disease by a third and lowered their risk overall of any cause of death during a 9-year National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute study. The Marshfield Clinic showed that 1,500 women living in rural Wisconsin were significantly less likely to suffer from depression and stress if they took vacations twice a year than those who took vacations less than once every two years.
Not only is time off crucial for recharging and staying healthy, but there are also benefits to companies as well: Bosses who take vacation time offer the opportunity to develop leaders from within the organization, giving them the chance to take the wheel.
Does it leave more work when you return? Sure—but you’ll be recharged and better equipped to handle it. And knowing a vacation is coming up can make you more focused and motivated to get things done, cutting down on wasted time.
Not only is taking time off essential but so is using it to get away. Most workers, when they do take time off, use half or less of that time for travel. Those who use most of their vacation time for actual vacations – so-called mega-travellers – reported the greatest happiness of all.
Those mega-travellers were more likely to receive raises and bonuses than employees who used little or none of their vacation time for travel. Getting out of the office helped them advance their careers, not hurt it.
Build Your Inspiration
If you don’t take the time to slow down, you won’t have the space to think and get inspired. More and more leaders are taking the time to meditate—even if that means scheduling 15 minutes out of their day to do nothing.
The space to think and reflect helps us to solve problems, discover solutions to dissatisfaction, and work through tensions. Ideas and epiphanies can come when our minds are working through issues when they’re not focused on something else.
Get Out of the Office
If you’re in charge, you’ve got the power to set the tone toward vacation policy at your company: Show that time away is a demonstration of dedication to being at your best and giving your best to your company.
Make it easy for employees to cover for one another while they’re on vacation, and insist that they give their holiday as much attention as they present their jobs – checking email or taking a “workstation” won’t offer the same benefits as a total disconnect.
Remember: Taking time off can create a more inspired, productive, and thriving workplace – from the top down.